My plan to discredit Melanie Rossen failed in momentum with every lead. I started with the head of the history department at Anderson University, Floyd Mercer. I sat down in a cramped office on the second floor of Decker Hall.

The fifty-something appearance of a clumsy lanky man with a nuisance of wispy white hair on top of his head almost caused me to laugh out loud. I held my amusement back as he described, in an enthusiastic tone, Ms. Rossen’s capability to be a fine teacher in every way. He had sat in one of her lectures in September on the subject of the state of Germany when Adolph Hitler became chancellor in 1933. The large, arena-like classroom filled to capacity grew quiet as she expounded on her vast knowledge of that pivotal moment when Hitler’s power was rising.

I was directed to the psychology department, where a Manfred Foy was said to be Melanie’s boyfriend for the last three years. I caught him at the end of his last class of the day.

He was gracious as I introduced myself. He offered me an invitation for coffee at the University Commons Building across the wooded hilly area, behind the building where his department was located. I was taken immediately by his lyrical British accent and his massive, wavy brown hair cupped under his chin.

“Did Mel get into the fact she had suffered a miscarriage two weeks before the attack?” He brought this important fact to my attention as we sat down with our coffees in hand.

I reacted in complete surprise, my nose scrunched up with my mouth open. “She appeared to be in so much pain. All she got out was the gruesome description of her assailant.”

He gave me a face like someone who was about to throw up. “Yes, what she told me is on the scale of so bizarre it caused me to cringe in total disbelief. She went unglued with my initial reaction. Frankly, I thought her going on about his appearance, non-human kind of nonsense was from her coming out of the anesthesia.”

Professor Foy huffed in a puzzled tone, then said with an off-handed candor. “I understand your leaning towards maybe she has some mental health issues. For instance, when she lost the baby only four months along, she acted like it was some routine female mishap.”

He pointed one of his long fingers at me. I thought what would come next was a firm rebuke. “I will give you one constant with Melanie: she is the type of person who will exhaust every measure of research to know precisely what and who attacked her. I have begun myself a read into Philippine folklore on her urgings from her little doting nurse.”

I thought to myself, the Filipino nurse again. It would be ironic if Luther and I needed her, after all. I asked one more question. “Could you give me the address where her parents live?”

Bernie and Delores Rossen had been the proprietors of Rossen China on the corner of Ninth and Main Street since what seemed like forever ago. It was currently a photography studio, aptly named Rossen Photos, under the ownership of their nephew. They were living their idyllic retirement in a restored farmhouse off of Highway 32, close to the small town of Lapel.

Even though this was a cold call, the white-haired, short-statured, apple-cheeked couple were overly hospitable. I sat there in their living room, evident of how proud they were of their two daughters, with a large assortment of framed photographs on the wall behind where Bernie was seated.

He loudly asked me questions on gun control. I could feel his passion over the accelerated gun violence since January 2018. I cleared my throat, “Well, sir, being in law enforcement, I feel having school personnel carry concealed weapons in the schools would open a whole new can of worms; not good.”

Delores Rossen brought in a silver tray of china teacups, a plate of lemon squares, and an elegant set of silver tea service. “Detective McMahan, how do you take your tea?”

I had a strong black coffee with Professor Foy, now tea with the Rossens. I would be surprised if all this caffeine didn’t take my brain down the “Yellow Brick Road to the Strange and Unusual.” Was I really going through some kind of bizarre mind-meld to get any kind of reasoning of this monster madness? Melanie Rossen’s account echoed in my mind, like several playbacks to an exciting yardage gain from a tight game from my favorite college football team during Thanksgiving bowl games.

I could not be rude. I told her politely, “A dollop of cream with two sugars.”

The tea was surprisingly good. I took two sips and began my interview. “Has either of you seen Melanie embellish events out of proportion?”

“That type of behavior has always been the way of her younger sister. She’s in films out west. Melanie has always stayed with the facts,” Bernie answered first.

Delores added, “I got to the hospital after we were informed by Manny that Melanie was walking around on her own and showering without assistance. She told me as she was eating her dinner she would tell me more after she did a careful search on this unusual type of attacker.”

“Mrs. Rossen, didn’t you find her account a little hard to swallow?”

“It is not for me to judge. It was something out of the strange movie blockbusters we hear about,” Delores responded, not to my satisfaction. I was expecting her to show some kind of disturbing behavior over all this.

“Are you both concerned about her going back to her place?”

“Manny told us he is staying with her until she can go back to work. Both Bernie and I will drop in on her. Her sister will be arriving from California next week,” Delores informed me.

Delores walked me to the front door. I felt I didn’t want to wear out my welcome. She placed her hand on my left wrist. “Detective McMahan, you are going to exhaust all your efforts to catch this horrible person. My Melanie is keeping something from us. I feel so strongly she is terrified.”

I wanted to give Mrs. Rossen hearty reassurances. All I could do is nod and give her a half-assed smile. After 15 years in police work, I knew I was dealing with the unknown, and that made me feel vulnerable, an inner feeling I despised.

In the car, my back pocket vibrated. I looked at the screen on my smartphone. A text from Luther: “Meet me at Community Hospital. We have another one.”

I got to the 5th floor and was about to walk up to the nurses’ station. I saw Luther talking to a shorter, dark-haired man in a long white hospital coat. Luther introduced me as I approached them. “Detective McMahan, this is Dr. Reyes, who operated on Rosa Montez.”

“Doctor, Luther briefly let me know there was another one related to our present case. What can you add?” I said.

“Detectives, the procedure I performed on Mrs. Montez was rather disturbing. Not something I’ve seen in my practice. The fetus we extracted from her womb looked to be mummified.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“All bodily fluids and the baby’s blood were sucked away. I am originally from Roxas City, a large city in the province of Capiz, in the Philippines. I had not believed this legend I had heard when I was a boy. What happened to this seven-month-old baby is the result of something I did not want to believe and have a hard time witnessing what happened to the patient,” Dr. Reyes said, shaking his head in amazement and noticeable terror.

Luther asked as I stood there speechless for once. “Dr. Reyes, can we look in on your patient?”

“Yes, but make it short. Her husband is there in Room 521 with her now,” he told us, then walked off.

We knocked and slowly entered the room. Luther informed the gentleman sitting close to the bed with his head down, as if he was in prayer. His wife was sleeping. “Mr. Montez, forgive our intrusion. We are detectives from the Detective Division of the APD.”

Mr. Montez jumped away from his wife’s bedside. He waved his hands in a hysterical state. “No, I don’t have to talk to you!” He came closer, his hands in front, as if to push us out. “Our baby is gone, and the bruise on my wife’s belly proves it was the Diablo Angel!” He made the sign of the cross and shouted at us in Spanish.

We got out of there quickly. In the hallway, I asked Luther. “What was that last thing he shouted?”

“Solo la policia no puede luchar contra tal mal. This meant in English: just the police cannot fight against such evil.”

Things were adding up to mean my initial remark when I heard Melanie Rossen, despite my sarcasm, was correct. It was not The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but some kind of Filipino monster that had some people overwhelmingly terrified. I was feeling a twinge of Mr. Montez’s apparent terror, although my investigative mind wanted to know all I could.

We went back to the division. Mitch Gable pointed at us, snapping his fingers to get into his office PDQ. We obeyed, sitting down close to his scattered-papered desk.

His eyes looked like they would pop out of their sockets any minute. He demanded, “Give me something!”

“Well, sir, both attacks are related in some detail. It looks to be of the serial nature,” Luther braved an answer first.

“Sarge, I’ve got to mention, what type of assailant we are profiling? The male seems to be some part of a legend steeped in a bizarre superstition originating from the Philippines,” I added.

Mitch got up from his desk chair and began pacing the office. “Some horror show you two are telling me of. I don’t want to have our city’s pretty-boy mayor sniffing up my butt for answers as the attacks grow in number; or worse, the attacker decides to go further with a murder!”

“Wow! You have described our predicament very well, Sarge,” I said, offering a compliment so his mood would not worsen. He turned around to where both of us were sitting. I took it he did not care much for my last comment. He gave me the dirtiest look; so bad, I thought he would give me a quick snap on the back of the head like my Grandpa Pete used to do.

He pointed to Luther. “Get cracking on your PC searches.” He waved his index finger at my nose. “I order you to use your infamous instincts, not matter how far left field you get. And Glenda, drop your sarcasm about the first victim. I heard what you said to Luther.”

“Luther, did you snitch on me?” I glared at my partner. He violently shook his head.

“It was that Filipino nurse who attended to Melanie Rossen. She called me the next day to say how rude you were to her,” Mitch told me. “Now, the both of you, get out and burn the midnight oil if you have to!”

Luther and I moped out of the division to our vehicles like two kids who had lost their favorite kite. We said nothing to each other and went our separate ways.

I got home around 11:30 p.m. not tired, not wanting to watch anything on my flat screen. I scanned over my collection of novels. I looked over the shelf of all my Stephen King books, then went down to the Dan Brown and Dean Koontz novels. I went up two shelves to my classic horror collection. My fingers scanned to the left: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, nope; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, nope. I came to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Yeah, that’s the one!

I got to the part when Mina pleaded for Count Dracula to let her drink his blood. He said to her that she did not know what she was asking him to do. He loved her too much to grant her plea. I was struck by the pathos this monstrous character was capable of and when someone who he loved dearly wanted him to grant her eternal life with him. Dracula initially did not want to make her into the monster he had become for centuries.

The phone next to my bedside rang. I jumped up from my mound of pillows, almost landing on the floor. “Hello. Oh Christ, Luther, your ringing me scared me to death!”

“You must be reading from your horror collection.” He laughed.

“Yeah, Bram Stoker again, almost halfway through.”

“I had to call. I’ve been on the computer looking up ‘balut.’ This one search took me to an interesting article saying when this aswang cannot get its favorite kill, it goes to eating the gruesome delicacy of balut. This is a street food found in most islands of the Philippines made from a duck or chicken egg hard-boiled from an incubation time between 14 and 21 days. Get this: people are actually eating a duck fetus. After peeling it, you can see dark red veins marbled among the white of the egg. Ugh!” Luther rattled on, along with sound effects of his weak stomach acting up.

“So, we have a name for this speculative, bizarre thing: an aswang,” I said.

“Got an idea. There is a restaurant that serves this strange and bizarre appetizer. It is located Chicago-way, in the suburb of Downers Grove. Let’s take a road trip to sample and see this thing up close,” Luther added.

“I’m up for that. Hey, I’ve been ordered to appear at Grandpa Pete’s for breakfast. I won’t be at the division until 9:30 a.m,” I said, starting to get sleepy.

“That’s cool. I’ll be busy in my cubicle.”

It didn’t take me long to drift off into a deep sleep. My mind was quiet for now. I had no clue as the weeks ensued what kind of realm of crazy this investigation would take me and my partner.


For all installments from The Islands Tell of It, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Chapter 1: The First Victim